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Full text of "[Comments on]: On the Gipsies of Bengal"

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clii Journal of the Anthropological Society. 

Faugh, use cross-bows ; those south, bows like this. I hope 
to procure and send a Fanh cross-bow and bolts soon. 

39. Thirty arrows, some of them poisoned, made by Isyaga, pur- 

chased at Buali ; called by Iveia, moulai, but this name, I 
think, is rightly the name of the poison only. 

40. A quiver, made by Isyaga, purchased at Buali, and called by 

Iveia, isogolu. 

41. A piece of bark and two leaves, given to R. B. N. W. by Rem- 

pal6s head slave, an Esyebo, before starting up the Oremba 
Okanda ; the Okanda tribe are supposed to be powerful 
magicians, and the Inlenga are quite unable to counteract 
their spells, but the Osebo are equally if not more powerful ; 
the bark and leaves were to be kej)t constantly about me, 
and placed at night under my pillow, which would prevent 
harm coming to me during sleep ; for it is at night that 
these people most fear the influence of witchcraft and 
sorcery ; a man who by clay possesses a fair amount of 
courage, becomes at night a pusillanimous coward ; not 
having reached the Okanda tribe I was unable to put the 
virtues of my counter-charm to the proof. 

42. Eleven iron necklets of the Ba-Fanh, Gaboon, W. 

43. An iron bracelet of the Ba-Fanh, ditto. 

44. A girdle of the Ba-Fanh, ditto. 

45. A sword of the Ba-Fanh, ditto. 

46. A dagger of the Ba-Fanh, ditto. 

Nos. 19 and 20, and 23 to 46, both inclusive, are collected and 
presented by R. B. N. Walker, Loc. Sec, A.S.L., Gaboon. 
N.B. — d is pronounced aw; d has nearly the same sound as d ; 
v is a combination of v and w, or sometimes of b, v, and w ; nl is a 
combination of the two letters very frequent in the Mpongwe lan- 
guage, but sometimes the n is nearly mute, at others the I. 

Oremba (-baw) means river, and is the proper form of the word 
Rembo used by Du Chaillu ; it makes Itemba in the plural. 

The first paper read was 

On the Gipsies of Bengal. By Babu Rajendralala Mitra. 
Abstract. [The paper will appear at length in the Memoirs.'] 

The author pointed out at some length the general belief in Europe 
that the gipsies are of Asiatic origin ; and gave the various names by 
which the gipsies, who call themselves liominivhal, or wandering men, 
became gitanos in Spain, zingari in Turkey, tatters in Hoi stein, wed- 
dahs or nuts in Southern India, and bediyas in Bengal. He compared 
the last-named with the gipsies in Europe, with whose habits great 
similarity existed. A long description of the customs, appearance, and 
language of the bediyas was given, illustrated with vocabularies 
showing the differences and resemblances between the Bediya and 
Hindustani Bengali dialects. 

Mr, Hyde Clarke considered the paper to be a valuable one, as it 



Mitra on the Gypsies of Bengal. cliii 

established the identity of character of the gipsies of the east with 
those of the west. The gipsies of Asia Minor, however, had not the 
same character for plundering as the gipsies generally have, and 
seldom came within the notice of the police. They follow in other 
respects the same practices as the classes of gipsies in Bengal. Many 
of the women were fortune-tellers, some were dancers, and they ex- 
hibited the same looseness of demeanour ; but he believed they could 
not be charged with want of chastity out of their own caste. Many 
of the women earned their livelihood by working at the iron trade, 
in which small furnaces were employed. Their mode of habitation 
was the same as that of the gipsies of Bengal. In Turkey the gipsies 
are never employed as soldiers, for which occupation they are consi- 
dered to be unfitted. In their outward conformity to the religion of 
the country they inhabit they also resemble the gipsies of Bengal. 
They went to the Greek church or were Mussulmans, according to 
circumstances. At Constantinople the female gipsies were dancers, 
and bore a loose character, but they were not prostitutes. The 
paper, he considered, contained much valuable information as it en- 
abled them to compare the western gipsies with those of the east. 

Mr. C. Carter Blake made some remarks on that part of the paper 
which noticed the practice of the extraction of sinews from the flesh, 
which he said was not a local peculiarity nor confined to any particular 
race or period. The custom was now known among the Esquimaux, 
and there was evidence, from the appearance of the bones, that it was 
a common practice among the dwellers in the bone caves of Southern 
France and Belgium. It was a curious fact that such a custom, 
which had existed at periods so distant, should prevail at the present 
time. 

Dr. Dutt said there was no doubt a race of people in Bengal called 
bedyias, but whose characters had been much exaggerated in the 
paper. There were two classes called bediyas, who differed from 
each other. The people of one class were not thieves, nor were they 
dirty in their habits, but they got their livelihood by juggling. The 
others, also called bediyas, were a class of rogues. In the paper both 
classes were confounded together. The women of one of those classes 
did not go about telling fortunes, but were very hard working women 
and employed themselves in making baskets and other articles for sale. 
There was another class sometimes called bediyas, who were not 
natives of Bengal. They went about the country to cure diseases of 
men as well as of cattle, and did not pretend to be fortune-tellers. 
They very much resembled gipsies in character, but whether they be- 
longed to the same race was doubtful. That they were not natives of 
Bengal could be told from their pronunciation of the language, and 
from the use of peculiar words. In Mr. Borrow's work on the gipsies 
it was stated that out of 2,600 words in their vocabulary there was 
not one peculiar to Bengal, but that there were several that were 
Hindostanee ; therefore, he inferred the race came from India, but not 
from. Bengal. His own impression was that those wandering in Bengal 
had been confounded by the author of the paper with the others who 
are not people of Bengal, but whose native place he could not 
determine. 



oliv Journal of the Anthropological Society. 

Major Owen thought it probable that the author of the paper in 
speaking of Bengal had not limited his observations to the province of 
Bengal but to the Presidency, which included the whole country. This 
class of people were not peculiar to Bengal, but the race were found 
elsewhere. One class was said to congregate much in Benares, from 
which place they distributed themselves and returned at certain 
periods. Major Owen mentioned that during the mutiny in India in 
a remote part of the country his soldiers found some children of the 
gipsy race who would not give any account where they came from, nor 
could the tribe to which they belonged be discovered. He said that 
the gipsies in speaking the Hindu language among themselves inverted 
the position of the letters so as to make a slang language unintelligible 
to others. 

Mr. Higgins said there was a tribe in Madras called Brinjari, who 
were never found living in towns, and were considered by many per- 
sons to be gipsies. He should be glad to know whether they were 
the same as the Bediyas mentioned in the paper ; and also whether 
philologists traced any resemblance between the words Brinjari and 
Zingari. They were not a vagrant race, but were employed in carry- 
ing corn. 

Dr. Dtjtt, in explanation of his previous observations, said there 
are women who wander about Bengal and speak the Bengalese lan- 
guage so imperfectly as to show that it is not their own dialect, but 
there are others who speak it correctly. They were different classes 
of bediyas. There was another wandering class mentioned in the 
seventh volume of Asiatic Researches, by Captain Richardson. His 
own impression was that the two classes who are jugglers are not 
gipsies ; but that the other class, who go about the country professing 
to cure diseases, may belong to the same race as the gipsies, but that 
they are not natives of Bengal. 

Mr. Hyde Clarke commented on the grammatical structure of the 
language of the gipsies, remarking that, although it was considerably 
affected by the language of the country in which they resided, it was 
decidedly of an Indian character. The gipsies in Spain adopted 
several Spanish words, and it was the same with those in Italy. 

Dr. Chabnook agreed with Mr. Hyde Clarke in considering the 
paper to be valuable, as showing a connection between the gipsies of 
the east and those of the west. In the vocabulary of the language, 
he found twenty-seven words out of forty-nine derived from the Hin- 
dostanee or Bengalee ; in some of the words the letters had been in- 
verted, so as to make what is called back slang. In the Lord's Prayer 
in the gipsy language, he found that two-thirds of the words were de- 
rived from the Hindostanee. He thought the way in which the gipsies 
settled their disputes was worthy of imitation. 

The following paper was then read : — 

On a Bechuana Shall. By R. W. Payne, Esq., F.A.S.L. 

A few words on a skull. When a boy at school I recollect a skull 
was defined in some elementary book as a bony box covering and 
protecting the brain. Since then it lias appeared to mo as rather an